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Efficacy of side air bags in reducing driver deaths in driver-side collisions

Braver, Elisa R.; Kyrychenko, Sergey Y.
American Journal of Epidemiology
March 2004

Side air bags, a relatively new technology designed to protect the head and/or torso in side-impact collisions, are becoming increasingly common in automobiles. Their efficacy in preventing US driver deaths among cars struck on the near (driver’s) side was examined using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System. Risk ratios for driver death per nearside collision during 1999–2001 were computed for head/torso and torso-only side air bags in cars from model years 1997–2002, relative to cars without side air bags. Confounding was addressed by adjusting nearside risk ratios for front- and rear-impact mortality, which is unaffected by side air bags. Risk ratios were 0.55 (95% confidence interval: 0.43, 0.71) for head/torso air bags and 0.89 (95% confidence interval: 0.79, 1.01) for torso-only air bags. Risk was reduced when cars with head/torso air bags were struck by cars/minivans (significant) or pickup trucks/sport utility vehicles (nonsignificant). Risk was reduced in two-vehicle collisions and among male drivers and drivers aged 16–64 years. Protective effects associated with torso-only air bags were observed in single-vehicle crashes and among male and 16- to 64-year-old drivers. Head/torso side air bags appear to be very effective in reducing nearside driver deaths, whereas torso-only air bags appear less protective.